This, too, shall pass. Raising a healthy, happy baby, like so many things we want to be simple in life, can feel like shooting at a moving target.
Phases and stages come and go in the blink of an eye. Moms think they have it figured out, and then… not so much.
So if mom is going through what might be called a “nursing strike,” when a baby who has otherwise fed well suddenly refuses to breastfeed or will not breastfeed well, then pause and take a breath, for this will surely end, some way, somehow.
It is understandable if you feel completely baffled. You really couldn’t be blamed for feeling scared, angry, and overwhelmed. A sleep-deprived parent doing everything within her power to provide the best nutrition she can for her child absolutely does not need one more thing to worry about, especially if that thing is her baby refusing to eat.
Breasts can quickly become uncomfortably engorged. Baby can quickly become overly tired, overly hungry, and seemingly impossible to sooth. Sleeplessness for baby means sleeplessness for mommy, and probably for mommy’s partner or primary support person, too.
A good word to describe this scenario? Hard. You know what, though? You are probably not as powerless as you feel. You are probably better equipped to cope with this than you ever imagined, certainly more so than you are currently capable of imagining in your stressed-out, sleep-deprived state.
Take heart, parents, because gathered here for you are fifteen (and there are surely more) ways of dealing with a nursing strike.
15 It’s In The Skin
Whether it’s a day spent in bed together or holding your little one close to you as you rock in your nursing chair, skin-to-skin contact might be just what you needed to get back to nursing success.
Remove your clothes from the waist up, or wear an open shirt or sweater. Undress baby, too, leaving only the diaper on. Hold baby against your chest, and wrap a soft blanky over baby’s back. All of this will help your little bundle to feel calm, secure, and warm. He’ll smell your familiar mommy scent, hear your familiar mommy heartbeat, and feel the comforting touch of your warm skin against his.
These warm skin-to-skin cuddles will probably really get the oxytocin flowing for you, which is that hormone of love and cuddles that is involved in the “let down” reflex — when breast milk really begins to flow during a nursing session. A calm, happy mother and baby and a readily flowing supply of milk are important factors for successful nursing, to be sure.
14 A World Apart
When a newborn nurses, it probably does not matter if the TV is on loud enough that your husband can hear the game from kitchen. Baby will still nurse happily away, drifting off to sleep in your arms. If someone comes in the front door or an older sibling bounds into the room shrieking and giggling, your tiny bundle of joy might not even seem to notice. It is probably easy enough, in the early days — provided you can get yourself and baby into a comfortable, well supported position — to nurse just about anywhere and everywhere.
At around three or four months, however, babies can tend to really seem to wake up. They may shift from sleeping every few hours to being up a lot more of the day and going down for two main naps at more dependable times instead. They may spend more of the time that they are awake smiling, “talking” (vocalizing with coos, ahs, gurgles, and grunts), and watching the excitement of family life buzzing around them.
Around this time, they may become so interested and aware of these types of goings-on that they become easily distracted while you are trying to feed them. If they can’t focus to feed, they may become overly hungry or overly tired, and that may make it even harder for them to focus in, latch on, and nurse.
Try taking the baby to a quiet corner of the house, away from movement, sound, and any other form of stimulation. A calm, quiet, environment can really help you to relax and baby to focus as you settle in for a feeding.
13 Novel Nursing
If you have until now been cradling baby in your arms, perhaps supported by a nursing pillow, for each and every feeding, you probably feel very comfortable using this hold and may feel reluctant to change it. If all is not well with breastfeeding, be it a full-blown nursing strike or simply some nipple discomfort, try this great trick: assume a different position!
Side-lying is a great way to go. It can feel funny at first if you’ve always done the upright, sitting in a chair, cross-body or cradle hold, but it can be really, really nice once you’ve done it a few times.
You may wish to spread a towel or two over the bed to catch any leaks, sprays, or spit-ups. Then lie on your side and position your baby on her side facing you. Pull her close and give her as much or as little assistance as is needed to get her latched onto the breast. Once she gets going, sometimes you may want or need to hold her against you or support her back so she doesn’t roll away. However, with a good latch and maybe just a little practice, you may be able to simply lie there and even get some rest as your baby eats.
It can be so snug, comfy, and relaxing to feed your baby while lying down in bed. And whatever position you’ve normally used, switching it up to a different one might just do the trick to get baby to nurse well again.
12 Booger Blasters
When a baby drinks milk from the breast, she breathes through her nose as she rhythmically sucks and swallows in a repeated motion. She is able to stay latched on and get into a rhythm of eating, with the mother’s milk steadily and readily flowing, because she can breathe as she goes.
If a babe’s nose is stuffed up due to a cold or allergies, she may not be able to nurse as well as she usually does. This can lead to coming off the breast repeatedly or not even wanting to try to latch on. This can in turn lead to frustration — on her part and yours — as well as baby becoming overly tired, overly hungry, or both.
You’ve probably gotten the sense, after nursing for any amount of time, that when a baby is overly tired or hungry, it doesn’t exactly make for a smooth nursing session.
Saline (saltwater) nasal drops and sprays are available that may help clear out the sinuses so that baby can breathe easier again. Always a good idea to check in with your doctor before using any new products for your little one. A humidifier or some time spent in a steamy bathroom may also do the trick.
11 Somehow, Some Way
When it comes down to it, baby’s gotta eat. If you had any delay in being able to nurse or being able to dependably get a good latch and solid nursing session in when your baby was first born, the hospital may have given you a small syringe so that you could use it to feed, little by little, expressed breast milk to your baby.
If he’s gone on a nursing strike or for any reason is not eating well, just getting a little something in that tummy might really help to improve the situation.
If a baby is overly hungry, it can be hard for him to calm down, latch on, and settle in for a good feeding. If he’s had a little taste of expressed milk, either from a syringe or dropper or even from your fingertip, he may be more likely and ready to get going with breastfeeding again.
10 Jam Up The Pump
The last thing you need when your baby has gone on a nursing strike is to be dealing with painful engorgement or even mastitis (inflammation often caused by an infection). Plus, it is very important to keep your milk supply up. Basically, even if baby is temporarily refusing to eat from you, you still have to be sure to keep your milk flowing.
Don’t hesitate to pump whenever baby would normally eat. If you’ve given nursing a good shot and it just isn’t going to happen at the moment, you’ll need to pump for your comfort and health and so that your body continues to produce the milk that your baby needs.
Another idea that may work is to pump just a little, not completely draining the breasts. If breasts are engorged (or very large, hard, and swollen), it can be difficult — especially for very small or very young babies — to latch on and eat. They may become frustrated and upset, making it even less likely that they will latch on and feed. If you express just some milk, you will relieve some of the engorgement so that the breast is softer again and it is easier for baby to latch on. You may also get the milk flowing this way so that when baby does latch and attempt to feed, she has instant satisfaction.
9 Smooth Soothe Moves
Have you ever had dental work done (maybe having your wisdom teeth removed, getting braces tightened, or having a cavity filled) and not felt like eating much of anything? You’d usually be ready for a sandwich around noon, but you find yourself reluctantly sucking down a smoothie instead?
It makes perfect sense that it’s hard to be enthusiastic about eating if you are experiencing any sort of pain or discomfort in your mouth. At various times in a baby and toddler’s life, he will be teething, meaning new teeth are getting ready to or already poking up through the gums. My first child started this process rather early, at around four months, I think.
There are many remedies you can give to try and ease teething pain and discomfort. Helping baby’s gums and mouth to feel more comfortable can help him feel more ready to latch on and eat normally again.
A cold washcloth, either just run under the tap or stored for awhile in the fridge or freezer, can be a relief for baby to suck on or for you to rub over his gums. Teething toys and rings can help as well, and many now have a liquid inside so that they stay cold for a while as baby happily gnaws away.
8 Rockabye Babies
You have probably discovered by now that when all else fails, some good old-fashioned motion usually helps to fix whatever is ailing an upset baby. If you have an infant in your household, you probably rock, dance, sway, and groove so much while holding her to help her be calm and happy or to go to sleep that you can barely stand in one position — when not holding a baby and not even around a baby — without swaying or dancing a bit.
I’m not suggesting, necessarily, that you attempt to dance around the room or sway back and forth while you get your fussy baby to latch on and nurse. What you may want to try, however, is sitting in a rocking chair and actually rocking or gliding back and forth while you nurse or try to get baby to latch on. If you don’t have a glider or rocker in your home, maybe see if you can visit a friend or relative who does.
The soothing motion of rocking back and forth even helps me to relax and feel tired, even more so when I close my eyes. This rockabye technique might just do the trick to help a fussy baby calm down and get down to the business of nursing again.
7 Well I’ve Been Afraid Of Changin’
A baby is comforted by routine. She likes familiar smells and feelings. They help her to feel safe and secure. Your body odor? Loves it. The scent of your milk? What an excellent scent it is!
If your baby suddenly decides not to nurse, you may not have considered some small change you’ve made that could be upsetting the familiarity of your routine.
Have you started wearing deodorant or started using a new scent or brand? Have you switched soaps, shampoos, or fragrances? Did you just color your hair?
The products we use and perhaps switch use of without too much thought can cause our scents to change. Another big one might be laundry detergent or fabric softeners. If all of our clothes suddenly smell completely different, it can be confusing, distracting, or even upsetting to a little baby who is used to that same wonderful mom smell they’ve already grown to love.
Other considerations in the same vein? Dietary changes. Did you have a hoppy beverage last night, eat spicy enchiladas, or down more dairy than you usually would?
6 All Bets On Baby
There are other ways to get nutrition into your little love. If baby has suddenly gone on a nursing strike, you will probably be willing and eager to try many techniques and modes of delivering some milk, somehow, into her tiny tummy.
With my first girl, we didn’t think we would need to use bottles at all. We didn’t think it would be worth the hassle. I planned on having her with me all the time through some creative scheduling and work arrangements.
When she was four months old, we thought, for a week, that she would need to be placed in daycare after all. The problem? She would not take a bottle. She never did. When a baby becomes this old, she is set in her routine of feeding and may be hesitant to take or even completely refuse to feed from a bottle.
With my second girl, even though I planned to be with her all the time, as well, we did start using a bottle and continue to feed her by bottle one time every day so that she is comfortable with it. This means I have to pump once a day. It also means I get to sit alone for 20-30 minutes once a day. It also means I may, just may, get to go out to dinner or to a movie with my husband one of these days.
My point? It can be a good idea to keep your feeding options open. My pediatrician recommended beginning to offer a bottle as soon as breastfeeding was well established — after a few weeks, but within the first month of life.
If baby isn’t latching on and nursing well for whatever reason, a bottle can be a great way to get some calories going.
Another bonus is that you can walk and rock around while bottle feeding, calming a fussy babe to the point that he’ll eat. If the bottles you’ve been trying aren’t working, try a few others with differently sized and shaped nipples. Try having someone besides Mom offer them, too.
5 Skip Straight To Sippies
When I thought — for one horrible, awful, no good, very bad week — that I would have to put my first baby in daycare rather than being with her all the time, and she was too old to adapt to being able to take a bottle rather than breastfeeding all the time, the daycare we were considering recommended attempting to give her my milk from a sippy cup. I hadn’t even considered it! She was only four months old.
It turned out I was able to change my work situation around in order to stay with her and be able to breastfeed her exclusively, but I’ve heard success stories about going straight for the sippy cup. It’s, like, not even trying to be a nipple, ya know? Instead of a bottle’s fake-nipple shape, it’s something completely different, something that baby might just be ready to learn to use.
If nursing isn’t working for a spell, you might want to give it a shot!
4 Too Little Too Late
Nursing is hard work. If a baby is extremely tired or very, very hungry, the act of latching on and getting into a rhythm of eating can be just too much to handle.
Instead of being satisfying and relaxing, it can quickly become frustrating, even infuriating, if you judge by the sound of an overly tired baby’s cries.
You can’t always put your baby down or get them to sleep at that perfect moment. It is pretty much inevitable that there will be a time, or times, when they just get too darn tired. Maybe you had to run out to the store rather than put them down for a nap at the exact right moment. Maybe illness or some other disruption to the normal routine has caused them to become fatigued. Maybe you just needed to get out of the house and talk to some other adults for a while, and naptime is a little off.
Whatever the reason, baby sometimes becomes so tired that she just can’t focus, latch, and eat. This has already happened to me many times in my four-month-old’s life, and I’m glad that I now have the experience to recognize that this is what is happening, put her down for a nap, and try again a bit later. If putting baby down for a nap won’t quite work for you at the moment, try a drive in the car or a relaxing stroller walk.
3 More, Please!
If a baby is sucking and sucking and not getting enough milk to be quickly satisfied, he may become quickly frustrated. Sometimes moms, for whatever reason, aren’t producing quite as much milk as baby currently demands.
Everything I’ve read and experienced leads me to believe that the most direct course of action is the best course of action: consider that this whole system is based on supply and demand. The more the nipples are stimulated to express milk, the more the body will produce. This is how moms so beautifully, seamlessly, produce just about the right amount of milk that their babies need at any given stage of the game.
If you are concerned that you are not producing enough milk and this may be causing a nursing or nutrition problem, try working in some pumping sessions throughout your day. Try pumping at times that baby has already eaten or is eating from a bottle instead. Stimulating the production of milk should cause a mother’s body to then produce more milk.
I’ve heard tell of “lactation cookies” as well as teas and other herbs mothers try to increase their supplies. This is something you might consider looking into, as well, with the doctor’s approval.
2 What’s Up, Doc?
Just as teething may cause discomfort in the mouth that leads to problems with nursing, injury and infection can of course also cause pain that disrupts a mother and baby’s nursing routine.
If you are having problems with feedings, seek advice from your baby’s pediatrician. You will want to rule out injury and infection as possible disruptions to a feeding routine that has, until recently, been going smoothly.
Cold sores, thrush, and other medical conditions could all cause painful sensations in a baby’s mouth. If there is a problem, it’s of course best to seek medical treatment. A doctor will be able to best advise you on how to treat any problematic conditions, the sooner to return to your regular feeding routine. He’ll also be able to advise you in how best to cope and continue feeding your baby while any medical conditions or other issues that may be causing a nursing strike persist.
1 Seriously Disturbed
Have you traveled lately? Are baby’s naptimes shifting? Have you moved, or is there something stressful going on in the family?
Even if you don’t think you are showing it, stress and other seemingly subtle changes to life’s routine can be alarming and upsetting to a baby or child.
Of course things like stress, changing jobs, and shifting schedules are often outside of our control. That’s why, like with so many things in life, we control what we can.
Can you sit in the same familiar nursing chair? Can you adjust your schedule to be able to nurse baby at more ideal or familiar times? If you are experiencing a stressful life event, can you better cope with it, take some “me time,” or ask for assistance from family to be able to provide more normalcy and comfort to your baby?
Life changes. Disruptions to what has become the “normal” or usual routine for a baby are inevitable. Maybe, though, you can take steps to make baby feel safe, secure, and ready to eat well again.
Sources: BabyCenter.com, YouTube.com